Mega Menorah 9000!

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Introducing our newest Hanukkah menorah kit: Mega Menorah 9000!

This is a great new easy soldering kit to make a handsome and decently-sized menorah. Once built, it stands just over 6 inches (15 cm) tall, and is 7.5 inches (19 cm) wide.

It’s USB powered, USB programmable with a built-in interface based on the Adafruit Trinket, and features 9 discrete RGB LED “pixels” that can produce all kinds of bright colors. Flickery flame effects built in too, of course.

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One of the cool things about this kit is that it has a unique “Trompe-l’œil” circuit board design that gives some illusion of a rounded 3D surface. As you can see above, it’s actually flat as a board.

To make it, we started with a 3D CAD model of what we wanted the circuit board to look like. The outer contours of the model became the outline of the circuit board. We then rendered the CAD model, and used our StippleGen 2 software to convert the resulting image into a vector stipple drawing— one that could eventually be converted into the artwork for the circuit board. All together it’s over 9000 stippled dots of black silkscreen! (To be more specific, there are roughly 17,000 dots on each side.)

MM9k FAQ: OK, but isn’t the name “Mega Menorah 9000″ perhaps just slightly on the excessive side?
Yes, we must (grudgingly) admit that it is. It just slipped out when we were trying to come up with a working title for the project — a name that meant “better than deluxe” so as to distinguish this model from our old favorite Deluxe LED Menorah Kits.
Alas, it was funny. And so it stuck. And now, it’s too late.

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There are two circuit boards in the kit. The “top” PCB is shaped like a menorah and the components (mainly just the nine WS2812-style LEDs) are for the most part hidden on the back side.

The base circuit board has rubber feet, the control buttons (color, night, reset), an ATtiny85 AVR microcontroller, USB power/programming jack, and a programming indicator LED. The circuit is actually an implementation of the Adafruit Trinket, which allows for reprogramming the microcontroller without requiring any hardware other than a regular USB cable.

MM9k FAQ: Why is there a binder clip there?
It’s an assembly jig that helps to align the parts in place so that it’s easy to build and looks neat. We’ll write more about it later.

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And, wow does this thing do colors! The nine WS2812-style individually addressable RGB LEDs in 5 mm packages, look reminiscent of candle flames, but can be tuned to just about any color in the rainbow. From a control standpoint, it’s awfully nice that they’re managed by just a single pin of the microcontroller, and have the built-in ICs to handle colors and dimming.

Mega Menorah 9000 begins shipping this week.

Robot heart

For Halloween this year, I went as a robot, wearing a silver dress with a slowly pulsing LED heart glowing visibly under the fabric.

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The LED is a one watt white LED, which we’re running at about 50 mA. It has a wide viewing angle, and the star-shaped mount lies conveniently flat. The LED is wired up to the PCB with a pair of twisted magnet wires. Magnet wire is flexible and thin, which makes it hardly noticeable under clothing. It is controlled by ATtiny2313 (running the code from our Mac sleep light pumpkin project) and powered by three AAA batteries. The PCB corners were rounded off so it wouldn’t be stabby.

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The dress was fully lined, which made it very convenient for mounting electronics. I pinned a makeshift pocket onto the liner, and tucked the battery holder and PCB in the pocket. I could feel the battery holder switch and turn it on and off through the fabric.

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The LED was taped to the dress liner with medical tape to hold it in place. An extra piece or two of tape held the wires to make sure there was appropriate slack for movement. (A note on tape: use the good stuff. The cheap paper tape in the off-brand first aid kit only stuck to itself and the magnet wire. 3M plastic medical tape worked great and came off easily.) This makes it easy to disassemble after Halloween.

LED heart


You can find more costume projects in our Halloween Project Archive.

Pen tests for drawing machines

Jenslabs has published a thoughtful and thorough evaluation of a number of currently available rollerball and gel pens. He tested them using his Circlon machine.

One thing that anyone who as ever built a drawing machine realizes, is that to get quality results you need a quality pen. There are millions of pens out there, but after a little trial and error I realized that rollerball pens or pens with gel ink are the best pen types for my machine. Both rollerball and gel ink pens use a water based ink that is less viscous then the oil based ink used in ballpoint pens. The Circlon machine sometimes move very fast, so the pen has to be able to release enough ink to make solid lines even at high speed.

This is an excellent resource for folks with other drawing machines, such as Egg-Bots and WaterColorBots. We’ve linked to it from our page about choosing pens for the Egg-Bot as well.

3D LED POV Mirror

“We Are with You, Mirror” is a piece by Brady Marks from VIVO Media Arts Centre that was shown at the Vancouver Mini Maker Faire. It is a 3D persistence of vision volumetric display that acts as a mirror, using four spinning Peggy 2 boards to reflect visitors movements in low resolution 3D LED glory.

Thank you to Brady for sending in the video!

Simple Relay Shield v 2.0

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A minor bump for one of our little open source Arduino add-ons. The Simple Relay Shield is an easy to use single-relay board that does one thing, and does it well: It adds a beefy little mechanical relay to an Arduino, which you control through pin Digital 4.

relay shield

Version 2.0 adds the ability — by popular request — to control it from a pin other than D4. Solder the jumper in the normal way (in location JP), and it works on pin D4. Hook it up to any other digital pin, say to D7, and now you have a relay on that pin. The Simple Relay Shield is available as a complete soldering kit or as a bare PCB, and you can find documentation on our wiki.

Interactive art at Helix

Romy Randev of Looma is installing his latest piece, Penumbra at the Helix museum in Los Altos.

Penumbra is an interactive installation that responds to movement in its environment. Without any human interaction, Penumbra is disguised as a decorative glass wall. However, each colored glass tile illuminates individually as sensors that respond to movements control LEDs behind the glass.

Penumbra makes use of our Octolively modules, and we’ll be at Helix with Romy on Saturday March 29th, starting at 2:00 PM to talk about the art and tech behind Penumbra. Event information is available from Helix.

Basics: AVR Target Boards and Arduino Compatibility

Diavolino
Gary writes:

I have fallen in love with your Diavolinos – thank you!
My question: does the “Simple target board” allow for the 6-pin FTDI Friend hookup to upload sketches? This is quick and easy with the Diavolino. I’m new to reading circuits and stuff, and I cannot tell looking at the target board. It says to use in-system programmer, but I prefer to not buy another interface. Thanks!

Excellent question! It is certainly possible, but not as quick and easy.  Both the Diavolino and our ATmegaXX8 target boards boards use the same chip, usually the ATmega328P.  But, one might say that our ATmegaXX8 board is a simple AVR target board optimized for use with an AVR ISP programmer (like the USBtinyISP), whereas the Diavolino is a simple target board optimized for use with the FTDI interface.

XX8 Target Board

Versus a “bare” target board (with just the chip and power), there are four things that you would normally add, in order to use the FTDI interface to upload a sketch from within the Arduino environment:

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Larson Scanner modding

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Anton wrote in to ask:

I want to purchase your Larson Scanner kit but need to be able to run it from household current … is there a converter that you would recommend?

Since the Larson Scanner normally runs from 3 V DC, a regulated 3 V power supply can be hooked up in place of the 2xAA battery box. However, 5 V power supplies (like this one) are much more common, and the circuit can be run from 5 V with only minor changes. if you replace the nine 16 ohm resistors in the Larson Scanner kit with 120 – 150 ohm resistors, you can power it from 5 V directly.

Another related question we occasionally get is how to run the Larson Scanner with green LEDs. (Note: by green, we mean “pure” green LEDs which have a forward voltage of about 3 V. Older style yellow-green LEDs with a forward voltage of ~2 V can be used as drop-in replacements for the red ones.) 

If running off of battery will work for you, this is an even simpler change: merely replace the 3 V battery holder with a 4.5 V one, such as a 3xAA. It is a happy coincidence that the circuit can run with red LEDs at 3 V or green LEDs at 4.5 V using the same 16 ohm resistor value. So how about running a green Larson Scanner from a 5 V power supply? Replace the nine 16 ohm resistors with 39 ohm resistors and you should be good to go.

You can find the documentation for the Larson Scanner and more stories about modding it on our wiki. We’d love to hear about any mods you do to the Larson Scanner in the comments or see pictures in the flickr pool.